Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Beethoven's Pastorale

 It's Beethoven's 250th birthday today, and I haven't played a note of his music. Of course, I just got out of quarantine, so there's that, and we're in the middle of the Christmas season, so there's that (even in the year of the pandemic I have a good bit of seasonal music to provide). 

When I was in high school I used to pass out Beethoven's Birthday cards to mark the occasion. I hope he doesn't think I'm backsliding.

A strange thought occurred to me when I thought about what I might play for you of his music. What, after all, does one play to sum up, represent, a composer with such a huge and quality catalog of works? And what do I have in my stock of available recordings that might answer?

For the past several Christmases, I have been obsessed with a couple of genres. One of them is the Pastorale, a type of piece that evokes the countryside, and possibly shepherds (abiding in their fields), with its drone bass, triple time, and dotted notes creating a bucolic atmosphere that makes city-dwellers like myself (and most of the composers of these things) pine for the simplicity of the rustic life. The first year I looked at examples by Bach and Buxtehude which seemed connected to the Christmas story. Then some examples that for one reason or another different fit the "official" description of a Pastorale in one way or another; works by Pintaric (one practically a polka), or Parker, or Liszt--am I forgetting anybody? Probably.

Anyhow, it just happens that one of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas has the nickname "Pastorale" and indeed begins with a movement that includes a drone bass (repeated) and a leisurely triple-time melody that is just right for this kind of piece. And it's very relaxing.

However, it is the fourth and final movement that I'm going to play for you. It also has a drone and is in triple time, and is, by Beethovenian standards, pretty relaxed, save for the storm that pops up in the middle. It satisfies my obligation to observe Beethoven's birthday and it continues the tradition of posting a pastorale or two for Christmas.


Beethoven: Sonata in D, op. 28 "Pastorale" -- Mvmt. 4 "Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo"

---If you'd like to (re)visit some of those other pastorale-related entries, a good start is the ten-part series which is in the right hand menu under the caption "Shepherd Series"--subsequent entries include the Parker Pastorale, which can be found here. There's also an entry about one by Edwin Lamare. If you'd like more information about Beethoven, there is a series that I wrote while teaching a course of lectures on him a couple of years ago, also in the menu on the right, under "Beethoven" (duh)

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